Ahn Ji-ho discusses her passion of blending musical genres through genuine creativity and vocal prowess of Navi.
Article By: Kyung Lee
Photos by: Becky White
Ever since a 16-year-old Ahn Ji-ho went on stage to demonstrate her flair for singing at school events, she always enjoyed performing what hit songs she had compiled in her mental jukebox, matched with expressing body movements freely on her own terms without worrying how well she did.
Very little did the now 33-year-old realize she would transcend the traditional boundaries of Korean ballads and pop by injecting in them variations of other musical categories and their respective charms to make what defines her under the stage name Navi.
Committed to the belief she’s upheld as a freestyle prodigy to professional composer and vocalist more than 10 years in the making, “I don’t want to limit myself to one or a few genres. Just whichever concept works for me fits how I want to interpret it.”
Finding inspiration from Korean singers on live TV and the R&B and soul track list of a greatest hits collection her mother bought for her in elementary school, Ahn says she tried to emulate every artist, their lyrics and rhythms with movements she improvised to her liking – a distant precursor to the character she imposes in her songs today.
And after much encouragement from one of her high school teachers that she should cultivate her talent, Ahn would transfer to Ahyeon Polytechnic School to professionalize her surroundings, a clear break from the leisure of providing joy to herself and her classmates.
However, it wasn’t just the intensity of exercising in various tones or expanding on her technical vocabulary of music composition in Ahyeon that drove Ahn to awaken what a young Navi could prove prior to her 2008 debut. Rather, it was under the tutelage of George Han Kim, a Korean-American vocalist who is also a member of the South Korean R&B and hip-pop group Solid, with whom she believes helped elevate her voice with an enlightened mind, body and soul.
“He [Johan] would play something and allowed me to be me through my body and emotions, which I enjoyed taking in viscerally,” she says. “Teaching me to investigate what I can feel when listening to a certain song, I considered his techniques both novel and suitable for me.”
Confident to enter the music world – with newly equipped enhanced senses and maturing creativity – Ahn wanted to experiment with genres like R&B, hip-pop, soul and even variations of jazz as coexisting with Korean ballads and pop into a single composition against the high tide of the mainstream cravings.
And though she was excited to learn she would complement her debut with the song, “I Love You,” Ahn could not contribute lyrics of her own, nor personalize the song’s other compelling elements much less than being allowed to exude her emotions only through her voice.
“I always thought it was difficult to adapt R&B, which you’ll hear aspects of in the song, but studios found it hard to accept it as a separate concept where they preferred more ballads and dance,” she says. “After ‘I Love You,’ my style evolved into negotiating between what the mainstream and I both wanted.”
Ahn says she eventually accepted what both genres required in her to fulfill following her first single “I Luv U,” but never let go of incorporating external influences into her upcoming releases to make the music dynamic her way.
Having featured Korean rap artists like Double K, Crown J and the hip-pop duo Geeks, including male vocalists K. Will and Shin Yong-jae in her previous songs, Ahn praised her guest appearances for versing their lyrics and styles in sync with her own balladic interpretations as snugly as a foot worn into a shoe.
Regarding an upcoming recording she already penned for the spring season, Ahn certainly sees no shortage of artists she’d like to collaborate with.
“There’s a rap passage that goes into the piece and I think Simon Dominic would be perfect for the role,” she says. “For future projects I want to organize, I’d take an opportunity to work with Lee Moon-sae if I was ever given one. Even though he’s been making music for a long time, he’s still not afraid of trying new things and breaking trends, and that’s what I greatly respect about him.”
Utilizing creative methods of her own – along with soaking in the sensual explorations taught by [Johan] Kim – Ahn keeps a mental record of her strolls in the park, chit chat with friends and passages from a book, which she lyricizes into her songs to show fans some of her most intimate episodes like pages in a diary.
“I wrote and recorded the composition ‘Fine’ to let my audiences know that in my more than 10 years of making music, that even though I’ve enjoyed performing in the limelight, I would also feel pain and stress from baseless criticisms that recently made me contemplate quitting,” she says. “Despite wandering in all directions for so long, my fans still loved what I was making and that’s what gave me the self-encouragement to pick myself up and tell them I was fine.”
Climbing back from the fray of nearly losing what she loved, Ahn says she is actively posting her vlog series on YouTube and studying English to converse with friends as part of a fresh outlook on life and counterbalance to the oftentimes vicious emotional cycles caused by music.
And having accomplished a discography of OSTs, single and full-length albums, Ahn released her 60th album “10” in December 2018 to dedicate her decade-long endeavor to her true-blue fans since debuting with “I Love You.”
Through “10” and its 11 tracks, Ahn wants to show she’s not fighting to climb the charts or compete with other artists, but she’s the same Navi unhindered to express how she feels about herself.
“I only injected it with songs I really enjoyed in making and fans noticed the new direction I was going,” she says. Writing songs can usually be tormenting but I felt that the process this time around was fluid.”
Her music is available on Melon, Genie, Bugs and more.
Follow Navi on instagram @navi_jiho